Tools to defeat fake news - Reverse Image Search


One of the most important tools in the war for your attention is the ability to critically examine media and discover its provenance.  Take this example - a friend of a friend was tagged in this Facebook post, and so it appeared on my feed:


Screenshot from Facebook. An small boat floats on the ocean. Beneath it is the outline of a huge whale.

WOW! Right! Nature is Coooooool!  Or is it?  If "The Planet Today" were a reputable source of news, they would tell us who the photographer was. Or where the shot was taken. Or... well... anything about the photo.  But they're just a clickbait farm, so we have to go digging ourselves.

A "Reverse Image Search" site allows you to send it an image and it will find all the occurrences of it on the web. Nifty!  My favourite is TinEye.com but you can also use Google Image Search.

Using TinEye, we can sort for the oldest image on the web. That's a good way to track where it came from.


Screenshot from the TinEye website - showing the image around the web.

Here we can see that the uncropped photo first appeared in 2014 - and it has bounced around the Internet ever since, variously being cropped, filtered, captioned, and misattributed.

The original seems to be from this imgur user, who has only ever uploaded one photo.  What happens when we search for the uncropped image itself?

That quickly takes us to websites where people claim that this is a still from the film In The Heart of the Sea.


Poster for a film. A large ship floats atop a gigantic whale.

They're thematically similar - but not identical. Within the discussion, one of the contributors says:

Posted this before but it looks a lot like this image.
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-yJn6GIeRLn8/T4b6dDjH0aI/AAAAAAAAFfE/0jVQIZlMCZI/s1600/IMG_0201+ED.jpg

Auroren on Reddit


A clear photo of a boat floating on a body of water. There is no whale.

That does look strikingly similar to the original image. Let's compare them side-by-side:


Two images next to each other. The one with a whale is an obvious copy of the original.

The boats are the same. The foam in the bottom left is the same. The waves are the same. But one image has had a whale digitally inserted into it.  I wasn't able to conclusively find the person who took the original photo - but it is safe to say, the image on Facebook has been manipulated.

I don't think this specific Facebook group is trying to convince people to vote for their political party, or sway opinion about a matter of importance. But I think they are teaching people to be unquestioning about the media they consume.

Tracking down this image took me less than two minutes using my phone.  It doesn't take a lot of skill. Ideally, media producers would take a little bit of time before they go fishing for clicks. Alternatively, platforms like Facebook could attempt to link back to the original images. Or, just perhaps, people could take a moment to check before sharing content.

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